Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Relief as interface strife eases

William Humphrey MLA, community workers Janice Beggs and Ian McLaughlin and lower Oldpark Road resident Joe Keenan

Community workers at a north Belfast flashpoint teamed up with the PSNI to stop violence escalating over the weekend.

Ian McLaughlin said that there was potential for nights of trouble on the Lower Oldpark Road when over 20 youths from both sides of the interface clashed last Wednesday evening.

Stones and bottles were thrown before both sets of youths turned on the house of local resident Joe Keenan - who had tried calm the situation.

Originally police were criticised for a slow response time and failure to deter the youths on the night although they have since been commended for increasing their presence in the area following the attack and making sure any trouble did not escalate.

Ian McLaughlin of the Lower Shankill Community Association said that this time last year attacks had been a regular occurrence but there had been a lot of positive work done across the interface and with the police to reduce the tensions.

"Increased contact with the police and their willingness to increase their presence in the area over the weekend and take the heat out of the situation has to be commended," he said.

"Speaking to local residents, their main concern was the response time of the police when the incident sparked and their reluctance on the night to leave their vehicle.

"We understand that in a time of added security concerns for the PSNI there has to be a risk assessment but these youths know that too and if they know police aren't going to engage them then they aren't going to be deterred."

Asked whether security alerts across the city were preventing officers doing their work among local communities a police spokesperson said: "Despite the current threat level, which police must take cognisance of, we are committed to providing a policing service across all areas of north Belfast ensuring both the safety of the public and police officers alike."

Following the incident, local residents met with PSNI Area Commander Chief Inspector Andrew Freeburn and Inspector Gavin Kirkpatrick to discuss recurring trouble at the flash point and were given assurances by the police.

DUP MLA William Humphrey who attended the meeting said: "The PSNI confirmed that they have increased patrols in the area and that there have been no further serious incidents since Wednesday.

"They accept the importance of officers getting out of vehicles and onto the ground, to challenge the presence of youths at interfaces and to take names if necessary. They marked the area for particular attention this weekend, both by mobile patrols and for the operators of the interface CCTV cameras.

"My party colleagues and I are determined to do all we can to support those living in vulnerable locations in the front line at interfaces, who are 'holding the line' for the benefit of others," he concluded.

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